Public Hearing: Phoenix Academy Public Charter High School, Lawrence

At least one member of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) attends one public hearing on a pending application for a charter school and reports back to the full BESE. The idea behind the hearings is to provide members of the public an opportunity to voice their opinions on proposed charter schools and to present information for the Department and BESE to consider in deliberations. This year, there were two public hearings -- in Lynn and in Lawrence. (Read this Press Release for more on the process.)

The Phoenix Academy Lawrence (PAL) is an in-district school that the Phoenix Charter Academy Network (PCAN) is contracted to operate. PCAN is proposing to close PAL and open a new, regional  Commonwealth Charter School to be called "Phoenix Academy Public Charter High School, Lawrence" (PAPCHSL). If approved, it would also draw from Haverhill and Methuen Public School systems.

The hearing I attended and presided over was held in the Main Branch of the Lawrence Public Library. It was a lousy weather drive and getting there took much longer than I had accounted for and, so it happened, I arrived with literally one minute to spare. We were in the library's auditorium and there was a full, friendly crowd. And lots of students. At least as many students came out to support this proposal as came out last year to support the MAP Academy Charter School in Plymouth. All of the oral testimony was in support, by the way. No one speaking indicated they were  from Haverhill or Methuen:

  • 14 Students, Alums
  • 9 Teachers, Staff, or Administrators
  • 5 Parents/Guardians
  • 3 Community Members
  • 2 Phoenix Board Members
  • CEO, PCAN
  • Receiver, Lawrence Public Schools
  • ED, CPSA

Beth Anderson, Chief Executive Officer, Phoenix Charter Academy Network: good work happening in Lawrence and we want to do more, especially with our youth
Student: transferred from a school in NH; Phoenix is a caring community
Jeff Riley, Reciever, Lawrence Public Schools: graduation rate has increased more than 20 points in 6 yrs, but still well below state's average; need options for children; Phoenix has proven to be a great model; need to expand
Lane Glenn, President, Northern Essex Community College: wears many hats in the community; $275K lost with each student dropout; in six years has seen "triple the number of students transitioning from Lawrence High School (LHS) to their local community college"
Student: LHS felt way too big; with Phoenix has a better, more flexible schedule; can complete her work
John Connors, Phoenix Board Chair: students are awesome; students tell their stories; wants to help more students; Phoenix is there to help them; nationally recognized model; wants 11 BESE voting members to support the move to become a Commonwealth Charter School
Student: a 17yo senior; moved from NY; Phoenix has earned her trust; people at the school help a lot; school starts at 9AM is a big help
Teacher: been teaching there since 2013; supporting young moms; expanding means opening up to older moms
Admin: using project-based learning; lots of support and flexibility; majority of students are young men right now; expanding to a regional shool will bring changes; need to get to know Haverhill & Methuen; need to expand ELT program
Alum: now in second year at Brandeis University; had behavior problems at LHS; Phoenix gave her a second chance; gave her support, taught self-advocacy
Alum: "lots of support at Phoenix...looking back, they were the only family I had"
Alum: left LHS because it was too big, no support; dropped out -- has 6 sisters -- "went back to school to graduate to be a role model for them"
Student: "Phoenix has had a positive influence on me"
Parent/Guardian: "don't know if they do magic there or not, but they got it"
Parent/Guardian: "care about my kid's education...no one wants to see their kid fail"; dropped out -- got a GED 25 yrs later; "students need 1:1 attention; they're not perfect, they're kids and each one learns differently"
Staff: is a sister, aunt, cousin, friend; "building relationships is our heart and soul for students"; Phoenix really is a family; home visits and phone calls
Student: went to LHS and did well freshman year; slacked off sophomore year and made "bad 'friends' "; had to go to Phoenix; great relationships with teachers; "Phoenix makes me want to go to school...I've been applying to colleges I've never heard of"
Marianne Paley-Nadel, Owner of Everett Mills: Phoenix is the tenant of her building; building a Lawrence partnership; impact not only on the student, but on family and community, too
Parents/Guardians: 2 children - 1 in college, 1 at Phoenix; were reluctant to send him to Phoenix at first; "he's a smart kid who sometimes steps out of the box...at Phoenix there is love and support"
Student: moved a lot; "schools feel like a business...have always been on the edge, with respect to grades...at Phoenix, there's a human connection, as opposed to one that feels more robotic"
Teacher: Phoenix believes students will succeed; "we build trust with our students"; teachers collaborate with each other; "we give them feedback and let them revise their work"
Student: able to be responsive to needs of students; got Ds and Fs at LHS; at Phoenix,  must maintain at least a C average -- lower is not acceptable; "skipped a lot of classes at LHS"; now feels ready for college
Admin: growing up "felt like a statistic because I was failing, a teen mom, and -- on top of all that -- a Latina"; can relate to students at Phoenix
Staff: works in college services at Phoenix; is a Haverhill High School grad; feels that will give him an edge with students when Phoenix expands
Alum: skipped a lot at LHS; had to go to Phoenix; "Phoenix built a foundation for me"; is currently in a bachelor of science nursing program
Student: Phoenix is one big support; "they really care for you...becoming a charter school would be a big step in the right direction"
Student: supports becoming a charter school; "personally, didn't have a lot of problems with school or problems with attendance...Phoenix challenged me and I wanted to do better"
Tim Nicolette, Executive Director, Massachusetts Charter Public School Association: "proud and moved by students and parents"; charter schools are to provide new models; Phoenix is a unique model; "the power of second chances...deep connections in the community build a web of support"
Trisha Perez Kennealy, Phoenix Board Member: shares personal story; parents from Puerto Rico; parents worked hard to give her a good education; knows the value of it and wants all children to have one; believes in the Phoenix model
Teacher: a first year teacher at Phoenix; students here "are the most misunderstood young men and women in the state"
Student: younger, supportive teachers who care; came from CA then KS then MA; in KS he failed courses, had to pay $91 for each class failed; "can you imagine that"; been at Phoenix since September and has a good feeling being there
Parent/Guardian: parent of a student at Phoenix; student was very attracted to LHS; "people said Phoenix was a school for bad kids"; soon came to realize that students had very different needs; Phoenix has heart; students have friends
Gregg Croteau, MSW, Executive Director, UTEC: Phoenix is building a community